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DALLAS - Mexican drug cartels are reaching into border-area schools to recruit new soldiers and killers, and state police officials are warning parents that those efforts could expand into North Texas and throughout the state.

Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday that the recruiting is done through gangs, and warned parents to be wary.

The concern is that the gangs are now being used by the cartels on both sides of the border for hit squads, human smuggling and countersurveillance, he said.

Dallas officials say they've seen no direct cartel influence in local schools. They say, however, that cartels often use gangs to distribute drugs.

There's always been the rumor and threat that the cartels can use street gangs up here like that, but we're not seeing it, said Michael Dovick, a Dallas Independent School District gang specialist.

The DPS reports that last year, youths from border counties accounted for 9 percent of the population in Texas, but 18 percent of the state's felony drug charges and gang-related arrests.

While the DPS has found no direct evidence of a concerted youth recruiting effort farther north, McCraw said that no school is exempt from cartel and gang recruitment.

If there's any communication between gangs operating in DISD and contacts across the border, it's by school-age gang members' older relatives who are also in gangs, Dovick said.

The neighborhood cliques and gangs do their violence but are not tied to the cartels, he said. The cartel issues, that stuff is well networked and it kind of stays out of the schools.

District officials meet weekly with Dallas police gang officers and other law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and compare notes.

DPS officials say that in El Paso, teens have been recruited to smuggle drugs across the border, many with the packs taped to their bodies.

They also point to examples such as Laredo's Rosalio Reta. The American-born teen was recruited at 13 into a gang of sicarios, or hit men, by the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel's violent enforcement arm. Reta and his young colleagues were prized not only for their willingness to kill but also for their ability to blend in on both sides of the border.

Cartel leaders lured them in with promises of cars, money and notoriety. Reta is now serving a life sentence for murder in a prison near Abilene.

Right now, these are desperate times for a lot of people, said Charlotte McWilliams, another DISD gang specialist. She wouldn't be surprised if the cartels were stepping up their efforts. It sounds like something they'd want to do.

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